28 December 2012

Forever green

At this time of year, ivy becomes much more noticeable in hedges and trees. Once the summer cover of leaves has fallen, ivy is revealed as dark silhouettes in the midst of hedgerows with its dark evergreen leaves gleaming in strong contrast to the twiggy winter outline of the deciduous trees and shrubs. 

Ivy flowers in early autumn and is a valuable late source of nectar, particularly for flies and wasps which are often attracted in considerable numbers so the whole ivy plant is seemingly a ‘buzz’.

The flowers fade to yellow circular ‘styles’ which occur in globe like clusters – resembling yellow fairy lights, that bring a sparkle hedgerows in the dark days of November and December. 

As December progresses the berries of ivy begin to develop and ripen, turning from a pale green to a dark almost black. Once ripe the berries are much favoured by birds, especially the wood pigeon. On a winter’s day, often the only noise to be heard in the hedgerows of the meadows is a wood pigeon as it clatters and flaps about in ivy, clumsily gathering a feast!  

Ivy is also a very valuable roosting and hibernating habitat for birds and insects. The waxy evergreen leaves provide weatherproof shelter and can also be rich frost-free pickings for insectivorous birds like long tailed tit, wren and robin. 

Of course at this time of year, there is a long tradition of using ivy, along with other evergreens like holly, to ‘deck the halls’. Being evergreen, both holly and ivy have strong associations with midwinter as evergreens are a sign of life and hope at a time of year when all around seems dark and dead. 

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